Responses on Drunken Driving and Trans Fats--BECKER
Many valuable comments, and I will respond to a few of them.
Maximum penalties are not the right statistic on punishment for drunk driving or other offenses. Actual punishments are the right one. In this regard, some of the calculations posted on actual punishments in the U.S. were interesting, and show how mild some of them are. Studies for Sweden and Norway I believe show clearly that punishments are more severe there. I indicated through my reference to Votey's work, which shows that this greater severity contributes to the lower rates of accidents from drunk driving in Sweden.
In many European cities, such as Stockholm, public transportation is not obviously better than in a city like Chicago, but there is no comparison between the drunk driving rates in these two cities.
I do not agree that decisions whether to drive are necessarily made during or after drunk driving. When drinkers fear punishment, they make them before by not driving if they expect to drink a lot, or by having a designated driver. That is common in Scandinavia and some other countries.
There is an "optimal" level of drunk driving, but markets without punishments exceed that level because of the harm caused by drunk drivers to others. I am not trying to eliminate driving while drunk, but to bring it closer to this optimum. The tort system alone cannot do this partly for the reasons given by Parry in his post, and partly because some drivers who hurt others are judgment proof, especially when they kill or badly injure others. That is most of the basis more generally for criminal laws and punishments beyond torts.
I do not claim that punishment should be a break-even proposition in terms of the costs and benefits to drunk drivers, but rather punishments should be at least as great as the damages caused to others. Even that should be qualified when damages are not in the form of monetary compensation to those harmed. See the working out of these principles in my paper on crime and punishment reprinted in a collection of my essays called The Essence of Becker.
On Trans Fats:
I respond briefly. Heart disease is not common in younger persons unless they are extremely obese, and I do mean extremely. In fact the effect of weight on mortality is not large except at the extremes of the Body Mass index (BMI) distribution. This is shown in the work of my colleague Robert Fogel and his students, and others.
I believe consumer ignorance is Posner's main argument, so I took that on directly, and showed I believe it is of questionable importance. Without consumer ignorance, I presume he would surely allow consumers to decide themselves.
What is remarkable to me is not how slow but how fast the response has been to evidence on the harm from trans fats. Producer after producer are declaring that their products are trans fats free. This is not an isolated instance; I recommend the writings of Pauline Ippolito of the FTC on the rapid response of advertising for products, and for the ingredients that go into different products, in response to evidence on the harm from salt, on which cereals are good for you, on why fats are bad, etc.
On the child car seats evidence, see an article by in the NY Times for July 10, 2005, The Seat-Belt Solution, By Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.